the beauty of monotypes

Thursday, December 31, 2009

When we first moved into our house, we received these beautiful monotype prints as a gift from the artist, my mother, Rosemary Luckett. I framed them in simple black frames with extra-wide, double-thick mats and they hang proudly now in my dining room. I can't tell you how many comments I have gotten on them over the years.

They have a spontaneous feeling and luminous quality to them that cannot be achieved with any other medium. Monotyping is a printing technique that combines painting and drawing to produce one of a kind prints as opposed to editions.

Rosemary uses the subtractive method in which oil-based ink is rolled onto a zinc plate and wiped off where larger white areas are desired. Brushes, swabs, toothpicks, even carving tools are used to create textures by selectively removing more ink. This is where the method becomes like drawing. Variation in the application of the ink and the unpredictability of how the pressure of the press will act on the lines add to the expressiveness of the images.

The image on the plate is transferred onto slightly damp100% cotton rag paper using an etching press. Another layer of paper and a felt blanket are laid over the plate and paper, then the roller, set to a certain pressure, passes over the layers once going one way, then again going back.

Woman Reading by Edgar Degas
Degas was a notable practitioner of the technique, pushing the medium further than any artist before him. He took advantage of the spontaneity of the medium and achieved some glowing gestural images.

Siesta by Henri Matisse
Matisse, too, did a few monotypes in a completely different style which highlighted his "economy of line".

Light on Tree Cluster by Rosemary Luckett
Rosemary's lush, sensual prints hold their own next to the work of these great artists.

House on Hill I by Rosemary Luckett
And now all my blathering on about Etsy has gotten to her, and she has opened an Etsy shop called Second River Studio where a selection of her monotypes is available for sale! They are not scans of originals, reprinted. They are the real deal, 1 of 1 signed prints.

 Junipers on a Hill by Rosemary Luckett
The full series of Rosemary Luckett's monotypes inspired by the Virginia countryside can be viewed on her web site, along with her paintings, collages, drawings and sculptures.Go check them out...

Happy New Year!

diana: a celebration

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

I have to sheepishly admit, I have a soft spot for popular culture. I love it when I am at the gym to half-heartedly ride the exercise bike, and the magazine rack has a People magazine. There are certain famous people that are just fun to to look at. I don't care much for the speculation into their personal lives, I just like to revel in their fashionableness as I toil away in my baggy sweats.

There are those certain few that mesmerize us and make it to icon status. I think of Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn and, more recognizable worldwide than even Jaqueline Kennedy Onassis, Princess Diana Of Wales.

I was tickled to receive the book A Dress for Diana for Christmas from my friend Anne, who knows of my secret interest in her. It's all about the making of the most famous wedding dress of all time, Diana's gown for her wedding to Prince Charles in 1981. It's not a gossip book. It is less about Diana than it is about the designers, David and Elizabeth Emanuel, who were rather young themselves, and the whirlwind surrounding the making of the bridal gown, as well as the outfits of the attendants, in just 6 months. Being a designer myself, I like the behind-the-scenes perspective of the book. The book captures how the designers savored every moment of their interactions with Diana and how they felt the full weight of the responsibility attached the honor of being the royal dressmakers. Can you imagine being only 29 and asked to design the gown of the century?

I love the sketches they included of all the not-chosen versions of the dress, some of which I think were actually better than the final dress. But the more fashionable or low-cut versions would not have been a reflection of the shy 19-year-old Diana that met with the designers in a "little cardigan and pie-crust frilled blouse". They were all completely pouffy, though. She rightly picked a version with an unembellished skirt  But those sleeves! It was the 80's, I guess. Elizabeth Emanuel still gets her pouf on today as you can see on her site (go to the wedding dress section).

Flower girl dress sketches.

I've been poring over all the  pictures of the trial muslins, which they call toiles in England (I like that name better, actually), and the nitty-gritty scenes of the workroom in action.

And not only did I get this great book, but I was invited to attend the exhibit, Diana: A Celebration today in Philadelphia at the Constitution Center with my mother-daughter gal-pals Anne and Misha. The choice of venue is a little puzzling: what does a an exhibit about a British Royal have to do with American history or the Constitution? A few people are peeved about that- they think only people like Betsy Ross or Martha Washington should be featured there. Whatever. That didn't stop us from going and enjoying the spectacle.

Boy, was it crowded! We had tickets for a certain time, arrived early, and still had to wait over an hour in line to get in. Shame on you, Constitution Center! Once in, the first alcove was intentionally dark with a spotlight shining on a diamond encrusted tiara. Magnificent! Several rooms of Spencer family memorabilia followed. The case full of Diana's early childhood things, including her favorite stuffed toy, photo albums, pastel portraits, and school things was attracting a lot of interest. But we were really there for THE DRESS.

A whole room was devoted to it.

And it needed it because of the 25 foot train, which wasn't even fully extended. Can you imagine the weight of walking with that much fabric dragging behind, and an equally long veil attached to your head?

It was amazing to see all the details up close, the hand-sewn beading, the intricate antique lace, and the fine silk taffeta . It really looked different to me, though, than in the photos, or the footage, or my memory of watching the wedding on TV as a wide-eyed teen. On her wedding day, Diana looked swallowed up by the pouffiness of it all, the perfect metaphor for what would befall her. The actual dress wasn't all that full on the mannequin, like maybe the crinoline was missing underneath. Still, really neat to have seen it up close.

Equally interesting was the next room, filled with many other recognizable outfits of Diana's. These were on loan from private collections acquired at the  1997 Christies' charity auction just a few months before her death. Collectors and even some regular people paid in the tens of thousands for the dresses and suits, some going for well over $100,000. Now some of the ensembles tour on a rotating basis earning even more proceeds for Diana's pet charities. No one expected her to be gone not even two months later.

What I love about watching Diana over the years is seeing her evolution. In the beginning of her public life, Diana's look was overly coordinated, dowdy, and always with the requisite hat. In the last few years of her life, she had developed a sleek, glamorous, confident style for herself. Barely a hat in sight.

Definitely a fashion don't, even for the 80's. Yikes! Apparently she wore this polka dotted thing on many occasions over a 5-year period. I was surprised how many of her outfits she wore multiple times. She was actually criticized for repeating outfits, but how sensible, I think. She would save the new and exciting outfits for attracting attention to a special charity or to take attention away from something else, like her husband's televised admission of adultery (see the "revenge dress" by Christina Stombolian here).

Most of her official daytime suits and some of the evening wear (like the famous "Elvis" dress) were designed by Catherine Walker. This suit was not in the exhibit, but you get the idea. I can't say I care for Diana's royal matched suit & hat look of the 80's specially designed to make her "stand out in a crowd". She stands out, all right. But then, I'm an American and we just don't get hats. You should see Walker's suits now. Diana would be stunning in them.

Most people agree that Diana looked her best after her separation from Prince Charles. She started wearing non-British designers like Versace and Valentino, but her go-to designer at that time seems to be London-based Jaques Azagury, a designer I'd not been aware of. His flattering evening dresses were our favorites in the show.

Misha's favorite. Worn to a Red Cross gala in Washington DC.

Anne's favorite. Worn to a British Ballet performance of Swan Lake during the time when Prince Charles was being seen publicly with Camilla Parker Bowles.

My favorite. The dress she wore to her last public appearance before her death, a charity event on her birthday (what a drag!).

The rest of the exhibit showed some of her hand-written thank-you notes (she must have spent half her days writing thank-yous), a huge case-full of condolence books, some open and written by children (sniff), and in the last room a blown-up copy of her brother's eulogy with Elton John's "Candle in the Wind" song playing in the background. Ok, time to go!

Thanks, Anne & Misha for a fun day!

snowy day get-together

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Snow is rare enough in Delaware that we get excited over just a few inches. This weekend Mother Nature gave us a good 14 inches, and folks were in a happy tizzy over the novelty and sheer beauty of it.

The snow was not enough for Beth to cancel her annual holiday greenery party. Her 1850's farmhouse with its white-blanketed grounds provided the perfect setting for a cozy afternoon of cookie-eating, gingerbread coffee-sipping, craftiness, and conversation.

Cuttings of boxwood, pine, and rosemary, all snipped from the property, were available for arranging. Florist foam was soaked in water, and placed in tins or other watertight containers. The kids especially loved poking the greenery into the foam and adding glitzy wired ornaments.

The rest of us worked on fattening up for the winter.

Mmmmmm... homemade goodies.

The live Christmas tree will be planted on the grounds after the holiday.

An upper window.

Perfect winter afternoon!

in love with japanese patterns, continued...

Saturday, December 19, 2009

After a couple of glitches with my machinery, I finally finished the dress project I started here. The fabric I chose is a 100% cotton gingham from my shopping trip to the NYC garment district. Before assembling the dress, I applied the applique pieces to the front, just like I did on my pillow project a while back, using Heat 'n' Bond iron-on adhesive. For the stems of the roses, I used grosgrain ribbon and heat sealed the edges with my new hot knife so they won't fray. The material for the roses was cut from one of the thrift store shirts I've been collecting. I liked the watermelon color and the tiny print.
Since the gingham is so lightweight, I used a  tear-away stabilizer on the back while I sewed the blanket stitch edging. 
My new Babylock machine did a fine job on the blanket stitch, and there was no bunching thanks to the stabilizer. It didn't completely tear off, which I guess is normal, so I decided to line the whole thing in cotton lawn to cover and protect the back side of the work. I actually like the lawn lining. It elevates the piece to heirloom-quality and extends the seasons it can be worn. I'm envisioning it with a turtleneck and leggings for Valentine's Day.

Next, the pocket. I've always found making round pockets smooth around the edge a trick to do at home, so I took a cue from what I'd seen done in a sample room once. I traced the pocket pattern, minus the seam allowances, onto some manila hard pattern paper (like the folders).
I cut out the shape and used it as a guide to press the seam allowance against. Then I basted the pocket into place, so it wouldn't shift during sewing.
Presto! A perfect round pocket. I'm loving the elastic at the top of this one. The Japanese pattern directions don't specify the lengths of elastic needed for any of the parts (that I could read anyway), so I just guessed for the pocket, sleeves, and neck.
Finally, an excuse to put a label in something! Only 999 more garments to go!
And it's done! Consider this a sneak peek into my etsy store, chirp & bloom, coming in January...

adventures in indiepreneurship

Thursday, December 17, 2009

In case you haven't guessed, the etsy bug has bitten me, and I've been scheming to open an etsy shop of my own for several months now. The sellers I follow make it look so effortless and fun. I thought I could throw something together in a few weeks, but it's turned into months. I had no idea it would be so involved!

First, the name. Every name I was thinking of seemed to be taken. If the name wasn't taken on etsy, then the worldwide web address was taken. I finally came up with "chirp & bloom" which had the lighthearted sound to it I was after and was vague enough to work for whatever I might want to make. So I snapped up the domain name and, on the advice of my lawyer neighbor, started the 6-month trademarking process to the tune of around $350. I also ordered custom woven labels early on knowing the process could take a month or two. $450 later, I am the proud owner of 1000 labels that have been sitting in my workroom chomping at the bit to get sewn into something.

This is what 1000 labels look like. I ordered them from, even though I thought the name was cheesy, and they handled my order very efficiently and professionally. A word of advice if you ever do a custom label- don't settle for a photo of the first sample, get it sent to you so you can have it in your hands for inspection. The old apparel training kicked in and made me insist on seeing the label before production, and I wound up doing a major adjustment to the way the background was woven (black was grinning through and making the white look dingy). I also ordered stock size tab labels from seanlabels on ebay and blank laser- printable label sheets from Creative Effex on ebay also. Label-wise, I'm ready to roll.

Meanwhile, I had to zone in on what exactly I would be making, which I decided will be primarily children's clothing, and start making it. I spent weeks browsing what other people are doing on etsy, just to make sure I didn't do something already done-to-death, then buying fabric and supplies. I'm afraid to even add up the receipts- definitely over $1000, I think. I also needed to determine my sizing, which I decided would be based on the Gap size chart for familiarity's sake, and make my patterns accordingly. Even though this is a small enterprise, my professional apparel training won't let me be slapdash about the nitty gritty parts. The stuff has to fit and be in line with people's expectations of quality and consistency. I made at least 2 trial muslins per style and fit them on my size 5 dressform as well as a real human size 5 (thank you Ellie!). The muslin-making was good practice for me using my new serger which took 9 hours of instruction to be able to operate.

I bought my 2-year old used Husqvarna Viking Huskylock 936 on ebay for $850 to give my garments a professional finish inside.

Things seemed to be coming together and finally, just this month, I cut into some of the real fabric to make my first item, a dress with an applique on it. Then KABBAM! My "trusty" 1970's Singer refused to do the blanket stitch. A trip to the repair shop found that "cam stack" was shot and unfixable according to Mr Hayes of Hayes Sewing Machine Co. Come to think of it, the poor machine was getting finicky on me with regular straight stitching as well.

R.I.P. Singer Touch and Sew 750...

Hello one year old, slightly used Babylock Crafter's Choice "sewing computer". You'd better not break, 'cause I've got some sewing to do here!

Feeling optimistic yesterday, I decided it was time to go downtown and get licensed-up for my very serious business venture which I've already invested so much in. I put 1 1/2 hours worth of quarters in the meter and marched off the the Carvel State Building to set things in motion. I wound up needing s 3 separate licenses for the state, totalling $240! At least they were fast and courteous and it was a one-stop deal. Then over to the Louis Redding City Building for my local licenses. Golly gee, the city charges double what the state charges and requires 3 different offices to process the transaction! Final approval of my doings needed to come from the infamous "L&I" (licensing and inspection) office. Since my business will be conducted from my residence, I am not allowed to do lots of stuff like warehouse merchandise or sell from the premises except for mail order. I promised my sales, if I ever got any, would be internet-only and I wouldn't have very much inventory at any one time. Then I had to promise not to ever have an employee, other than a family member living on the premises, work for me in my home. I had to suppress a grin as I imagined my husband and children toiling away for me in my basement sweatshop. No grinning allowed in L&I. The man was soberly assessing me over the top of his spectacles. He must have taken pity on me and my lame little business, because he let me get away with having only two licenses which I had to go to office #3, take a number, and pay for to the tune of $330. It's entirely likely that the costs of my licenses might exceed my gross earnings for the year! Feeling like I'd been mugged, I headed back to the car where the meter had expired and a $40 ticket was tucked under the wiper. Classic!

Last night around 10:00 after the kids were snug in their beds, I shrugged off the trials of the day and snuck down to my basement to do some completely legal serging on that same dress project that just can't seem to get finished. The stitching was coming out so professional and beautiful then... GRIIIIIND! What is that metal-on-metal sound? Why is my digital read-out flashing "overloaded" when I am just sewing with lightweight fabric? Deep breaths, deep breaths... and I'm off today to Stoneybrook Sew & Vac, the Viking dealer in town to see what the damage is. Wish me luck, apparently I need it!

christmas granola

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Have you ever noticed that supermarket spaghetti sauce comes in really nice mason jars? The Classico jars even say "MASON" on them, no reference to spaghetti. Salsa jars are nice and plain too. Seems a shame to send them straight to recycling, so I saved some, soaked the labels off with warm water, and am using them for filling with Christmas granola.
Christmas Granola Recipe
adapted from a recipe by Bridgette Healey

6 cups old fashioned oats 
1 cup pecans, coarsely chopped 
3/4 cup wheat germ
1/2 cup flaked coconut
1/3 cup flax seed meal
3/4 cup maple syrup
1/2 cup canola oil
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup dried cranberries

Using two rimmed, ungreased cookie sheets, toast oats for 10 minutes at 350 degrees, stirring at least once.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the remaining ingredients except the cranberries. Dump the toasted oats into the bowl and mix until coated. Spray cookie sheets with non stick spray and return coated oats to the pans.

Return to 350 degree oven and toast for another 20 mintues, stirring every 5 minutes. My ovens aren't so great- they heat unevenly- so the stirring every 5 minutes is important. Otherwise, the oats on the edges burn.

Cool slightly and mix in dried cranberries. Transfer to mason jars after completely cool.

1 recipe fills 3 mason jars.

Before filling the jars, I like to spray paint the lids so all reminders of their previous lives are gone. Red would have been nice, but I happened to have apple green on hand. No matter, I am covering the lid with some fabric anyway.

To make the jars gift-worthy, all you need is an 8" square of fabric (I pinked the edge), a rubber band, some twine or ribbon, and a tag. I've used burlap with a frayed edge and a ribbon before which looks homespun and pretty. Really, you could do anything you want.

I've tried tying on the ribbon or string directly over the fabric square, but it is very awkward. The rubber band is easier and allows to to readjust the fabric until it is how you want it. Then the string or ribbon covers it.

A jar of homemade granola makes a sweet hostess gift that is actually somewhat healthy. I'm talking omega 3's with the flax seed and nuts, B vitamins with the wheat germ, and cholesterol-fighting fiber with the oats. I have certain friends who expect their jar of granola every year, or I get comments like, "Where's my friggin' granola already?". It's that good.


in love with Japanese sewing pattern books

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Who knew the Japanese were so crafty? And so stylish about it? I may be behind the curve, but I've just discovered Japanese sewing pattern books. I  impulsively bought a few children's clothing ones on ebay, not knowing a thing about them except that the covers had good photography.
 I was not disappointed.

page after page of scrumptious photography

perfect blend of wholesome and modern
so artfully done compared to what I'm used to

 even the negative space is interesting
can't decide what to make first
think I'll try this one
I knew the directions would be in Japanese but YIKES... I didn't expect all the patterns for 20 or so styles and all 5 sizes to be on one page! Also, the sizes are European 100, 110, 120, etc. I refered to the Hanna Andersson size chart to get an idea for the conversion. My best guess is 110 is about a 5, the size of Lucy, my dressform.

No getting around it, you have to trace off the patterns you need (a little tricky to figure out because of the Japanese) using tracing paper. You can get it on 30" rolls at a good art supply store. I get mine from Wilmington Blue.

I learned the hard way that seam allowances are not included on the patterns. Luckily I cut the first one in muslin. You have to add the allowances on yourself. Using a see-through ruler is best.

Here's what the directions look like. This is not for beginners, unless you can read Japanese.

The finished muslin does indeed fit size 5! Instead of two pockets, I am planning an applique on one side...

I'd love to be showing you the finished garment right now, but my trusty Singer Touch and Sew decided to give out on me just as I was about to do the blanket stitch around the applique like I did so recently here. My repair guy told me it was time to lay it to rest, and I'm lucky it lasted this long. I guess I have put it through a lot between design school, making draperies for the whole house, and cranking out costumes for school musicals. So instead of making stuff right now, I am researching and test driving machines. I keep flip-flopping between sticking to my budget and getting a used mid-range machine, or going for the gold and getting a new high-quality machine that will (hopefully) last. Oh, Santa, I've been good, really I have!